A fire that swept through a home for seniors in the Quebec town of L'Isle-Verte likely took the lives of many of the 30 frail and elderly residents now listed as missing, authorities in the Canadian province said Friday.
Five of the 52 people registered as living at the Residence du Havre were confirmed dead after the Thursday blaze, and 20 were reported to have been brought out to safety. Ice that now encrusts the doused fire scene has hampered the search for the missing, Quebec provincial police Lt. Guy Lapointe told CBC News.
Firefighters were using jets of steam to melt the ice blocking entrance to the original part of the structure built in 1997, which wasn't equipped with a sprinkler system, the Toronto Star reported. The other half of the seniors center, constructed in 2002, was protected by sprinklers and was nearly untouched by the fire, the newspaper said.
Quebec Minister of Social Services Veronique Hivon told the Associated Press that many of the volunteer firefighters who responded to the blaze in the town of 1,500 had relatives in the residence.
Most of the residents were in their 80s, and many were confined to wheelchairs or reliant on walkers, which may have prevented them from making a timely exit from the building.
L'Isle-Verte Fire Chief Yvan Charron told journalists that the fire crews were at the scene within eight minutes of receiving the first call for help around 12:30 a.m. Thursday. But 4-below-zero weather caused some equipment to freeze, slowing the firefighters' ability to extinguish the blaze, Charron said.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, officials said.